Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Jets blank Canadiens 4-0
If it’s true that Santa Claus is a diehard supporter of the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Montreal Canadiens, then ol’ St. Nick just moved the Winnipeg Jets to the very top of the ‘Naughty’ list.
Yes, it’ll be lumps of coal all around for the the Jets after they welcomed the Canadiens to their house for a little pre-Christmas get together Thursday night at MTS Centre and then proceeded to kick the snot out of their lethargic guests in a 4-0 victory that will surely leave Habs’ faithful cursing their squad in both official languages this morning.
The victory not only improves the Jets to 16-13-5, but moves them into the highest spot in the Eastern Conference standings they’ve enjoyed all season — an eighth-place tie with the New Jersey Devils with 37 points.
As for the Habs — already in the midst of a full-fledged sports/political/language controversy for promoting Anglophone Randy Cunneyworth to interim head coach after the firing of Jacques Martin last weekend — they’ve now dropped five straight to fall to 13-16-7.
They’ll get little sympathy, however, from those in Jets’ colours as Winnipeg improved to 12-5-1 at home.
"We talked about that... we wanted to have a good start," began Jet winger Tanner Glass. "You know the kind of struggles they’ve been going through over there and you want to keep your foot on the gas and make it as tough a night on them as we can. Plus, we know with our crowd if we get an early one it’s going to be a long night in this building."
Long, and excruciatingly painful for a Habs’ team missing Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov and without P.K. Subban and Lars Eller, both scratched.
In any case, it didn’t take long for the Jets to jump all over their guests — who were pummelled 5-1 in Chicago Wednesday — with a dominant first period that saw them jump to a 2-0 lead before the game was 14 minutes old.
Blake Wheeler scored his fourth of the season with the Jets’ on the power-play, banging home an absolutely perfect pass from Dustin Byfuglien 3:18 into the game. That followed up by an even more-picturesque marker 10 minutes later when Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov and Tanner Glass did the tic-tac-goal thing for Glass’ fourth of the season.
"The first goal is huge, especially in your home building, because it gets the fans involved and get (the Canadiens) doubting again... it puts that doubt in their mind that it’s going to be a long, tough night," said Wheeler. "We tired them out a little bit and from there it was a little bit easier than if we had let them score the first goal on us."
And if the Habs had any life left it was snufffed out 39 seconds into the middle frame when Wheeler beat Carey Price with a wrist shot to the stick side. Tim Stapleton rounded out the scoring with 2:24 remaining as he was found all alone in front of the embattled Price by Wheeler, who picked up his third point of the night.
Ondrej Pavelec improved to 12-11-5 with a solid effort to pick up his third shutout of the season. As an added bonus, he picked up an assist on Wheeler’s second goal.
"We had a lot of good games from a lot of people," said Jets’ head coach Claude Noel.
"We just played a solid game. Our players played responsible, they played for their goaltender and having a two or three goal lead they were very conscientious of what they wanted to do there. There was a lot of energy on the bench about playing for the goalie."
The topic that feeds itself continued to strengthen today when Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel felt obliged to defend himself against accusations from corners of the province of Quebec that he only speaks English as some sort of show of support for Montreal Canadiens interim coach Randy Cunneyworth.
Cunneyworth, appointed last Saturday, is not bilingual.
“My situation not speaking French to the media is really nothing to do with Randy Cunneyworth and that whole scenario,” Noel said this morning after the Jets’ game-day skate at the MTS Centre. Winnipeg meets the Montreal Canadiens here tonight (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).
“It has to do with my comfort level. I can’t express myself in French like I can in English. So you try to answer questions that you can’t answer. I’ve got a Grade 6 education in French and then I went to English school from Grade 7 and onward. It’s hard to be descriptive.
“If I want to say to the French media, for example, ‘I want to focus on the task at hand,’ I can’t say that.
“I don’t know how to say it. The words don’t come out, so I’m always half-English, half-French. It has nothing to do with their situation there. They can accuse me of whatever they’d like.
“They want to generate whatever controversy? That’s their right.” said Noel, who was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont.
Noel said simply that his French is no longer “clean.”
“It’s no disrespect to the media,” he said. “I’ve been in the U.S. for 30 years. You lose it. Then you go to express yourself and you can’t.”
More pertinent to the coach is tonight’s game, which sees the Habs travelling here after losing 5-1 Wednesday night in Chicago.
“For us our puck management’s got to be better,” said the coach, whose team has alternated wins and losses in the last six games, including Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders. “We have to communicate better in our D zone and win more battles. That’s one of the things that cleans up our zone.”
The Habs have dropped 13-15-7 in the standings.
“They’re getting in late, it’s probably not the best thing for them,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “They’re coming off a 5-1 loss, they’re going to probably be a little more motivated, so we’ll have to be ready from the get-go.”
The teams met once before in 2011, when Winnipeg opened its historic new-era season on Oct. 9, a 5-1 win for Montreal.
“We played awful,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We don’t want to take anything from that game.”
Noel also said tonight that top centre Bryan Little, felled by a shot to the foot last Saturday, won’t be available.
And he’s a very large question mark for Friday’s home game against Pittsburgh.
“Day-to-day. It’s slow,” Noel said. “It’s very sensitive. He’s not a player in practice yet. We’re not sure when we’re going to get him back. We miss him a lot. He’s a centre on the top line.”
Updated on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 5:07 PM CST: Adds slideshow
8:17 PM: Updates with first period
9:10 PM: Updates with result, details after second period
10:08 PM: Updates with game overr
11:04 PM: Updates with quotes
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